from Asia Unbound

Assessing the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and the Sustainability of South Korea’s Contribution

November 06, 2012

Blog Post

More on:

Climate Change

South Korea

Energy and Environment

When South Korean president Lee Myung Bak first offered to serve as a bridge between developing and industrialized countries on climate change issues in a speech August of 2008, it seemed implausible that South Korea, as a smaller country in the global climate change discussion, could have an influence on either group. In fact, the speech ultimately seemed more targeted at a domestic rather than an international audience, since it spawned the establishment of a Blue House-led Green Growth Committee tasked to reform national energy policy across all sectors (including the National Asssembly’s adoption of an emissions trading scheme) and to promote policies of adaptation through enhanced energy efficiency and promotion of Korean development of renewables.

But there was also an international dimension, which took form through the establishment, funding, and international promotion of the GGGI by the South Korean government. Two weeks ago, GGGI was relaunched as an international organization. In a new report for CFR’s U.S.-Korea Program, my colleague Jill Kosch O’Donnnell has analyzed the significance and implications of the establishment of the GGGI as an international organization that acts to promote a bottom-up, economics-based vision for addressing climate change rather than getting mired in an international bureaucratic spider web of UN-led initiatives that effectively immobilize good intentions.

The establishment of GGGI as an international organization is fraught with contradictions that make the organizational mission and its prospects for success both intriguing and daunting:

  • GGGI must still prove that its green growth model of development will successfully achieve “green” growth and development while also attracting financial support and building its reputation as an effective international organization.

  • GGGI’s operating model is distinctive, attempting to link developed and developing contries as well as to involve both governments and non-state actors. In some aspects, GGGI seems to position itself more as a specialized boutique consulting group than as an international organization, but what will it take for such a model to be sustainable and effective?

  • As Lee Myung-Bak’s term as South Korea’s president comes to a close, the sustainability of South Korea’s commitment to green growth as a political priority is in question. In fact, one motivation for establishing GGGI as an international organization in the first place was the recognition that subsequent South Korean administrations may pull back from making green growth a priority since it is a signature initiative of Lee Myung-bak. This raises the question of which country will serve as an international “champion” for GGGI and for promoting green growth issues in general going forward.

Among South Korea’s many efforts to influence the international agenda in recent years, Lee Myung-bak’s distinctive contribution has been to embrace and act on the premise that climate change will not allow for the conduct of “business as usual,” but instead that a sustainable development requires both “continued growth and efforts to combat climate change.” Two weeks ago, South Korea was named as host of the Green Climate Fund, which has been established in association with the UN Convention on Climage Change to finance the promotion of “low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways by providing support to developing countries to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.” These developments in combination suggest that it will be hard for a new South Korean president to walk away from green growth, even if it is still too early to know whether South Korean stewardship and contributions to this dimension of the international agenda will ultimately be successful.